I first wrote this blog post back in September 2014, but Facebook’s recent changes to Business Page Feeds (Facebook Zero, the algorithm armageddon.) highlights the need to re-sound the warning.
Originally this post was prompted by Google’s dropping of a service that many people had invested significant resources in.
It highlighted just how cavalier many tech companies are with providing real service to your business.
Typically with Google they simply drop services they are no longer interested in, and without warning
As we’ve seen it’s not just Google
Facebook has always been infamous for continually changing the ground rules, often in highly questionable ways.
‘Yeah it used to be free to talk to all your own friends, but now you have to pay for it.”
And the latest example is really nothing new. Nobody can say it was unexpected or that they hadn’t been warned.
Even Linkedin is guilty of this.
Its management have made no secret of the fact that they’ve ditched being a professional networking service and now want to be a media company.
Such behaviour should be a warning to all businesses large and small.
You simply can’t trust or rely on these companies for major chunks of your revenue.
By all means use and take advantage of these platforms, just don’t tie your business future to them.
Because they are like the neighbourhood drug dealer. They push something on you, get you hooked and then keep increasing the price for the same service.
What, Did You Forget Basic Risk Management?
It should be clear by now that these companies are not doing you any long-term favours, because they can take that business away from you at any time.
Or, as is so often the case, hold you to ransom.
Those of you familiar with risk management will know that:
Any time you rely on a third party for a large part of your business (revenue) you are in trouble
Sadly this is exactly the situation so many businesses are in today.
I’ve met with prospective clients who proudly boast that 80% of their revenue comes from Adwords or that they are completely social.
To which I almost always involuntary respond: “Are you nuts?”
It doesn’t matter what the platform is - eBay, Adwords, AirBnB, Facebook etc – having someone else control that much of your financial destiny is always a bad situation to be in.
Any company that loses 25% of its business will not be around in a year's time
Never Ending Sunk Costs
As we’ve seen over and over again with Google and Facebook, many businesses have invested time and money in getting things set up with the aim of improving their organic reach, online credibility, branding and social profile.
And then it’s gone. All of that effort and money is now lost.
Business owners eventually get tired of the never ending cost of redoing everything every year (month) and either no longer trust anyone in the digital space or simply don’t believe what they say.
So What’s the Answer?
It goes without saying that we can’t ignore digital. It accounts for 22% of most countries GDP, according to the consulting group Accenture.
Such growth is considerably more than the other sectors of these economies, so there is obvious financial opportunity and attraction, but let’s not gets totally seduced by it.
The obvious answer is to make sure your business revenue comes from multiple channels all healthily split, both offline and online.
Do What Smart Businesses Do
An even better solution is of course is to do what smart businesses have always done, and that is build and manage your own direct connection with your customers and audience.
Modern examples are Amazon, Apple, Spotify and Netflix. None of these companies needs Google or social media to communicate with their customers. They have direct connection ecosystems in place that allow them to communicate directly to their customers.
These companies can completely bypass search engines, social media and the web to generate their revenue. Social media and search may facilitate some of the communication, but it’s not essential to them.
Now, More Than Ever, Build Your List
What Amazon, Apple and co have done is a modern take on the traditional marketers' mantra: "Build your list" or "The money's in the list".
In other words, they have invested in making sure they own their customer data.
It's easy enough to do, simply build an email list or a database of your customers, and maybe even use a CRM.
Once you have that, it doesn’t matter what the big tech companies do, you will always have options to communicate with your own customers: email, phone, direct mail, apps and even face to face.
It won’t matter what new technologies come along, you will always be able to use them to service your customers.
It comes back to sound risk management and business strategy. You need to own and control your own digital presence.
If you control your own data and content, then you will avoid being held over a barrel by overly zealous social media and digital service companies.
Get Off the Digital Hamster Wheel
It’s easy to get caught up in thinking that digital is the centre of the universe and that we must do social, search or YouTube.
Unfortunately that puts the focus on the technology and not your business goal or your customer. Such thinking will put you on the technology hamster wheel forever.
MediaCom's Jon Hook explains that despite the rise of digital and mobile, nothing’s fundamentally changed about marketing and business.
Australia’s marketing iconoclast Malcom Auld lists numerous ways businesses have for communicating with their customers which are not reliant on digital:
television, radio, press, print, mail, catalogues, sales people, retail stores, trade shows, telephone, sms, promotions, posters, brochures, sponsorship, events, multi-level-marketing, joint ventures.
They may be old fashioned and unsexy, but they will minimise your risk and help you put your marketing in perspective.
Is Anyone Paying Attention?
When I reviewed some of the original articles about this I realised that many people have been warning about the dangers of digital media dependence for a long time.
“Organic” is Dead, Say Hello to the Age of Paid Media from Social Mouths.
So you have to ask: "Is anyone even listening?"
Apparently not. As I said at the start, these digital companies have many of you over a barrel and are now demanding their ransom.